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Shaw’s new two-story Ambar opens with a cherry blossom-filled look for spring.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

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Balkan Favorite Ambar Blooms in Shaw With a Late-Night Rakia Bar

The unlimited small plates spot opens its third area location on Monday, March 6

A decade after gifting D.C. one of its first unlimited dining options, Ambar owner Ivan Iricanin is at it again. His lively, Balkan-themed enterprise opens its third location today in Shaw.

The two-story corner newcomer, with seating for more than 150, takes over a long-vacant historic brick building (1547 7th Street NW). All-you-can-eat Ambar offers prix fixe menus for lunch ($27.99 per person); dinner ($49.99, plus $27.99 for unlimited drinks and $7.99 for desserts); and meze brunch ($34.99, plus $12.99 for drinks). Dishes capture flavors across the Balkan peninsula, starting with Iricanin’s native Serbia. Find discounted prices for lunch ($25) and dinner ($39.99) during opening week.

Shaw’s long-awaited Ambar is an evolution from the original, which opened on Barracks Row in 2013. A second debuted in Arlington in 2016, and there is another outpost in Belgrade. (Iricanin’s Street Guys Hospitality group is also behind Buena Vida Gastrolounge and Baba in Clarendon.)

“When I proposed my Balkan dining ten years ago, I got pushback,” Iricanin tells Eater. “All people knew was war and Milosevic. But Balkan culture is a thousand years old, and there was no Balkan dining in D.C.”

To embrace its new nightlife neighborhood in Shaw, the upstairs level is a lounge-y, garden-like space with a retractable roof, lots of greenery, and pink touches during cherry blossom season.

“We are so pleased to be opening just in time for spring in D.C.,” says Iricanin.

The second-floor rakia cocktail bar, fueled by the famous brandy-style Balkan liquor and weekend DJs, sets this new Ambar apart from others. Once unlimited dinner concludes on weekends, the bar will continue to serve a limited menu based on Belgrade street food like cevapi and bacon-wrapped chicken. Late-night service on Fridays and Saturdays runs 11:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The upstairs level stays open late on weekends “to taste rakia infusions as the DJ spins,” says owner Ivan Iricanin.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC
Ambar’s “Kao Cacao” cocktail features aged rum, cacao Campari, pineapple, and raspberry cordial.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Meals at Ambar kick off with a colorful spread of dips and charcuterie, presented alongside puffy, homemade pita. Other starters include soups and salads.

At the Shaw location, Iricanin imports 30 of Ambar’s most popular dishes across six categories highlighting regional Balkan specialties. Slow-cooked countryside items like pork belly stuffed cabbage and short rib goulash join comforting plates from interior mountainous areas like chicken stroganoff. Grilled specialties include skewers, sausage, and cevapi, its ubiquitous beef street kebab. Carb-forward baked dishes engineered with aged cheese or beef include leeks stuffed into flaky, crispy phyllo dough pies and layered eggplant and lamb ragu lasagna.

Eggplant moussaka is built with Balkan cheese, tomato sauce, and parmesan.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Seafood plates draw from the coastline of Montenegro and Croatia. Salmon, shrimp, and drunken mussels in a garlic cream sauce enlivened by rakia liquor fill out this section.

The newest Ambar also introduces a plentiful vegetarian selection that swings from hearty (gnocchi in creamy truffle-infused mushroom sauce) to healthy (Brussels sprouts, flash-fried cauliflower, and thin-sliced beet carpaccio).

On the drinks side, more than 80 wines showcase grapes across Serbia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.

“Wine has been a crucial part of the restaurant DNA since day one,” says Aleksandar Krsmanovic, with whom Iricanin worked to source the wine. “The majority of the list is focused on Balkan wines from indigenous grape varietals that can not be found anywhere else in the world.”

As for the harder stuff, Ambar has a bar full rakia—the beloved Balkan spirit created from fermented fruit like plums, grapes, or other stone fruit. Ambar serves almost 20 different kinds, whether neat, over ice, or in cocktails. Quince rakia, for example, makes its way into a fall-like drink with scotch and ginger syrup. Ambar isn’t immune to the espresso martini craze, making its own version with vodka, Galliano Ristretto (an espresso liqueur), China China amer orange liqueur, and hazelnut orgeat. Bottled Balkan beers will also be available, alongside fresh juices.

Iricanin has had his eyes on this high-profile corner in Shaw for some time. Back in 2018, Eater reported that he was in talks with the landlord. Five years later, the project is finally here.

The first-floor dining room, anchored by an oversized oval bar with overhead liquor shelves suspended from the 12-foot ceiling, features earthy tones, wooden elements, splashes of green, and a large mural of a preening rooster. On warmer days, garage-like storefront doors open up on both sides of the dining room to the bustling street. There’s also a dedicated pick-up window for grab-and-go dinner.

The 4,626-square-foot restaurant, designed by BASILE Studio, features an open kitchen to catch cooks playing with fire on the grill.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

After moving from Serbia to D.C. in 2005, Iricanin worked his way up from busser to chef and partner at Richard Sandoval Hospitality’s now-closed bottomless pioneer Masa 14. The entrepreneurial restaurateur wanted nothing more than to express the best of his own culture and people—which includes all-you-can-eat dining.

“Unlimited food is just part of the Balkan hospitality I want people to experience,” says Iricanin. “The region’s culture has much to offer, and doing it through food is the best way I know how. [Ambar] is about how to bring people closer around the table.”

On weekdays, lunch runs 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and dinner runs 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Sunday. Weekend brunch runs 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Ambar’s stuffed pork belly cabbage is oven-baked for eight hours.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC
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